Toronto
3 min

Wisdom in the blood

Our desires secretly scare us

Credit: Xtra files

It’s funny how complicated the simplest things can be.



A few months ago I met a really cute guy in a bar. He was exactly my type, the cruise was very intense and within a few minutes of meeting we started to neck. There are a lot of cute guys out there and I’d like to fondle many of them and strip a few others, but I don’t often have the urge to kiss a stranger and so this seemed like something a little out of the ordinary, something that might go somewhere. In short, it seemed as if we had a bit of a click.



But when I asked him home, he said, “I’m not that kind of guy.”



To which I could only answer with stunned silence and the unvoiced thought, “And what kind of guy is that?”



Maybe what he meant to say was, “Thanks but no thanks. On closer inspection, you’re not my type.” Or perhaps the rejection was just a projection of his own sexual guilt. I learned just enough about him to know that there was a nasty streak of Catholic fundamentalism in the family background.



But of course I couldn’t help wondering if I was “that kind of guy” and if so, what did that say about me? I don’t carry a lot of sexual guilt (mercifully, I wasn’t born either Catholic or Mormon), but you can’t grow up in this culture without having doubts about your own desires. And I don’t think I’m exactly alone in this.



In an opinion piece for the Toronto Star, a lesbian who’d just married her partner of 18 years, described a family outing which she, her partner and their two children had taken with a couple of straight friends.



“We lazily passed our days sitting on the dock in Muskoka chairs, reading literature, sipping wine and watching our children water ski and wake board. The adults discussed private school fees, new vintages listings, building plans for the cottage, vacations in Costa Rica and, believe it or not, no one talked about sex. We were just two families of friends having fun and a well-deserved break with our children.”



Aside from the fact that the article reads like catalogue copy for Williams-Sonoma, the thing that got to me was the phrase, “no one talked about sex.”



I know what she means. Too often queer relationships are reduced to their sexual component, when clearly there is always a great deal more going on.



But stuck there at the end of the sentence, that phrase, “no one talked about sex,” came as a rather creepy cry of triumph. “See, look at us, we’re completely normal. We’re just as repressed as everyone else. We’re not going to talk about the thing that brought us together in the first place.”



This is not just a gay thing, though clearly there’s some intern-alized homophobia at work here. Society as a whole roots its key social structures (marriages, couples) in a sexual matrix, but remains deeply ambivalent about the energy that drives them. Religion and other forms of organized social intolerance contribute to this ambivalence but I don’t think they create it. There is something about the act itself that arouses dense and contradictory feelings.



The big secret about sex, says the cultural critic Leo Bersani, is that “most people don’t like it.” The British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips takes the idea one step further and says that it’s not quite that “most people don’t like it, it’s that… they are with people they aren’t really excited by or with people they are too excited by (which is why most relationships end in either boredom or pathological jealousy). And if they are with people they are not sufficiently excited by, Freud would say it is because they are terrified by their own desire.”



Or as novelist Lawrence Durrell put it more than 40 years ago, sex is “the one act we human beings most dream of and fear.”



Pro-gay shows like Queer As Folk paper over our perverse approach to pleasure in favour of propagandistic depictions of sexual perfection. But in real life I doubt there’s a person around who doesn’t have a few mixed feelings about the act. Things that make them squeamish, things that send them running for the door when the deed is done.



But love it or loathe it, you can’t ignore desire if only because it’s one of the truest expressions of self. No one (however hot) is obliged to respond to your desire, but neither can they be allowed to disparage nor trivialize it.



Desire may not lead to perfect bliss or the delicate matching of equal incomes or anything else the self-help industry likes to think of as happiness. But it does have something to tell us about ourselves and our bond with others.



In the age of AIDS it takes courage to have faith in the body. But I still think DH Lawrence got it right when he remarked, that the flesh is “wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true.”



I may be a romantic or maybe even a fool for believing that. But then, that’s just the kind of guy I am.